Chinese-American Lenora Chu’s new book, Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, praises China for its “superior academic results,” arguing that its teacher-first system—in which parents must respect their authority, too—ensures that “kids learn early that it is hard work and not innate ability that will shape their success.”
Predictably, the book has ignited a controversy among US educators and Asian-Americans not seen since Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mom” days. Coincidentally, a similar debate has also erupted in China, with many arguing that the line between parents and teachers’ responsibilities has blurred, and it’s time to stop with the helicopter-parenting approach.
Chinese have long insisted that family and school education must complement one another. “To feed without teaching is the fault of the father; to teach without severity is the teacher’s laziness,” claims the Three Character Primer, an ancient textbook, and modern parents are often expected to follow this advice by getting deeply involved in their children’s schooling, from preparing class activities to daily homework-checking.
Recently, however, one primary school in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, has called time on the latter practice, arguing there should be a firmer boundary between the duties of teachers and parents. “Let say goodbye to parents checking homework,” the school announced: “It’s every teacher’s basic responsibility to correct students’ homework seriously. We hope our students can realize: checking homework is your own job, not your mom’s.”
The suggestion triggered wide discussion on social media. Unsurprisingly, opinions were split on whether it was a good idea.
Some think it’s good to stop involving parents in homework, because it may lead the students to be less independent and lazier.
“Parents checking homework will cause kids to lack independence, or even feel like they are doing homework for the parents’ sake. At first, teachers may have intended [the practice] to make sure kids will finish homework…but now there’s the sense that parents are irresponsible if they don’t sign off on the homework, and if they don’t even care about the kids, why should teachers?”
Some think the parent-teacher relationship is already unbalanced, with teachers giving orders to parents. “The Chinese parent knows that her kid deserves whatever the teacher metes out, no questions asked,” Chu wrote in the Wall Street Journal.
But in practice, more and more parents are reflecting that teachers are just distributing homework to parents instead of students—and they are not completely happy about that, because when parents can’t finish assignments as expected, they get the blame.
Today I forgot to sign my kid’s recitation homework, and was called out by the teacher in our WeChat group. My kid was also criticized at school…my kid said he’d memorized the piece and asked the teacher to test him then and there, and the teacher refused. I’m really annoyed. Why not even give the kid a chance to appeal?
Others feel it’s beyond their ability to help with kids’ homework, since it has become harder and harder.
In 2016, Guangzhou CPPCC member Zeng Baochun complained to the media that his child’s homework was too difficult. “My husband and I both have a PhD, but we still can’t teach a primary school student,” Zeng told Xinxishibao, a local newspaper. Of course, for parents who don’t have a good education background, things are even more difficult.
As a parent, I feel terrible due to my own poor education background. To check my kid’s homework, I have to look up the answer on the internet, and have no idea how to do the problem. Then, the next day, the teacher finds all the answers correct, so they don’t bother to explain, so the kids still don’t understand and have to keep checking the internet. I want to ask the teacher, are they teaching the kids or teaching the parents?
But some netizens are standing by teachers, arguing the opposite: that parents shouldn’t completely rely on teachers to educate their offspring.
Asking parents to sign the homework is just making sure the kids finish it, not asking parents to correct the homework. Education is more than just learning at school. Family cooperation is even more important. I think the article saying family participation equals the teacher shifting responsibility is unfair. Today, being a primary school teacher is exhausting!
Calm down. Primary school students don’t have good self-control. Parents should pay attention to their homework, or they’ll regret it when it comes to the middle school entrance exam. Of course, parents who don’t mind which middle school their kids go to can continue not to care.
The argument certainly offers some food for thought—especially for foreigners who visit China and grow starry-eyed at the perceived advantages of its own unique system.
Cover image from mamaclub.com